By Elizabeth Kendal
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)
Special to ASSIST News Service
ANS – Cuba ‘s Church was decimated when Fidel Castro’s 1959 Communist Revolution forced multitudes of believers to flee to the USA for religious liberty. While religion was not banned, it was subject to heavy restrictions and repression. For decades, Cuban Christians suffered severe religious discrimination and persecution, which included imprisonment and arbitrary church closures.
After the fall of Communism in Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union – Cuba ‘s main backer – the situation in Cuba relaxed and the 1990s were marked by spectacular Church growth. But repressive policy made it virtually impossible for churches to get permission to extend their buildings or plant new churches, so house-churches sprang up all over the island. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports (Sep 2005), ‘Protestant pastors estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 house churches currently operate across the country. Most are satellite congregations of churches that existed prior to the 1959 Revolution and belong to well-established denominations with a historic presence in Cuba . Most of these house churches have somewhere between 30 and 200 members who regularly attend services.’
For a time the government tolerated the house-churches. But, as one Cuba-watcher notes, ‘There has been a very general trend in Cuba in the last three or four years to slowly bring the country back to a more orthodox Communist model.’ Castro has been reversing the reforms of the 1990s, and the authorities have been re-asserting their control. They are cracking down on dissent, escalating their repression of human rights and pro-democracy activists, many of whom are Christians, and demonstrating an increased hostility towards the Church.
New legislation, Directive 43 and Resolution 46, came into effect on 22 September. It requires all currently operating house-churches to register with the authorities. Protestant leaders told CSW that the registration process has become even more complicated and restrictive, meaning most fellowships will not achieve registration. The legislation requires detailed information to be submitted to the authorities about the house-church, the pastor and everybody living in the house. The new rules prohibit worship in a home not registered for religious activity, and the authorities are to supervise all registered, legal worship. House-churches that do achieve registration may not display any identifying sign or symbol and they must abide by all government stipulations, including a limit on numbers attending worship. In a move to isolate the Cuban Church by cutting off funds, communication and fellowship, foreigners are not permitted to have any involvement in house-churches without government permission. Churches violating that rule face steep fines and possible closure.
Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) reports that on Sunday 9 October, police raided a home in the city of Colon and confiscated printed gospels of John and a small printing press. The gospels were deemed ‘subversive and dangerous’. According to VOM, police then took Pastor Eliseo Rodriguez Matos to the local police station for interrogation. VOM also reports that house-churches are experiencing increased police harassment and threats.
One Cuban pastor recently told Compass Direct, ‘If bad times come, we will just have to be on our knees more, shed a few more tears perhaps, but we will never turn back.’
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:
- Courage, strength and solidarity within and amongst Cuba ‘s house-churches as believers face the prospect of escalating repression, isolation and persecution.
- God to use his Church in Cuba as a channel through which his majestic glory and compassionate grace flow effectually, bringing hope, healing, peace and joy to Cubans everywhere.
‘…that you may know… the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead…’
Ephesians 1:15-23 (ESV) excerpts
- Cuba ‘s President Fidel Castro to repent of his sin, yield to the Spirit, and submit to God, coming in line with his will: ‘ Cuba para Cristo!’ – ‘ Cuba for Christ!’ (See Psalm 2)
- God to give wisdom and insight to the US government so it may enact policy that will work for the ultimate blessing of Cuba .